Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not +1 Swords

Ok, so I've noted that I don't want players to treat magical items as fungible bonuses. I'd like each item to be treated as a unique, individual item with a story. After all, it takes a spell caster of significant power an equally significant amount of resources to create permanent magic. Such items shouldn't be treated like something from the dollar store.

To help with this, I did make some tables to assist in brain-storming the story of the item. However, that's just fluff and isn't immediately useful to the players. Fine for me as the DM, but the game isn't about me and my little stories, it is about the player's actions and the story they make. My role is to give them something to work with. So I've tried to add small but interesting powers that fit with the item's context.

This post is also in response to Bat's request that I post some items with history as we discussed in his post of the spell "Decipher History."

One nice thing for me as a DM: if I'm using less permanent magic, I'll be able to spend more time and imagination on the few that are found.

Here are some items already in the campaign:

Man Skinner:

This +1 dagger was found in the Inn of the Little Bear (from the Dragonsfoot e-zine Footprints #15, modified to be the Inn of the Blue Lantern along the Yggsburgh-Greyhawk road.) A +1 dagger is about as throw-away an object as a permanent magic item can be.

The dagger belonged to the hunted agent, Oswald, whose ghost haunts the Inn. The object should reflect its owner and his mission, so I decided (with some glances at my tables) that the dagger was bequeathed to Oswald by the Lord Mayor himself, a druid. Two interesting aspects of the campaign are the ongoing tension between the Old Faith and the religion of St. Cuthbert and the near forgotten conflict between the Suel migrations (in this area, the Maure) and an alliance of local Flan people, their druids, and the demihuman/fey. Being a druid of the Old Faith, the Lord Mayor had in his possessions an object from that ancient conflict: a dagger that the druids of the time created for that war. To emphasize that the dagger is ancient, I made the dagger bronze with a bone hilt. Inscribed upon the hilt were the runes “ManSkinner” in Ancient Flan. For this name to be remembered, it has to have a use: If the dagger is held and the wielder says the words, “Man Skinner” in Flan, the dagger will glow or cease glowing as a candle.
The lawful good follower of St. Cuthbert that claimed the dagger did investigate the dagger's history and discovered some of this with mixed feelings - making the dagger memorable. He still calls it 'manskinner.'

Grolantor's Fury:

+2 Spiked Club.
This +2 spiked club was found in the module Dark Chateau. What to do with a spiked club?

Rolling on those random tables, this item was created by a deity. Ok – this was a gift from the god of Ogres and Fury, Grolantor, to an ogre chief. Said ogre eventually found his way to the Dark Chateau where he either fell prey to Zagyg's magic or subsequent adventurers.
To make the item unique and not just “a +2 weapon”, the weapon sizes itself to whoever defeated the most recent wielder. Grolantor rewards fury.

Blood Letter:

+1 Scimitar, also found in the module Dark Chateau.

The tables say this was created by an orc cleric. So, this was made by an orcish shaman of Grumish in the Pomarj as part of an arsenal for raids northward into the Wild Coast and beyond. Its description is “Crude but efficient scimitar. Hilt is made of long flange (hand) bones wrapped around the tang of the blade and tied with leather. Two runes decorate the blade. A single Eye is carved into the cross of the hilt.”
When the scimitar draws blood, the two runes (orcish for Blood Letter) glow red as a candle. If brandished when lit it can be a negative to enemy's morale.

Wizard's Mate:
+1 Shield.
This item was found in the module “Idol of the Orcs.” I had placed the module within the western Menhir Hills. In the onion layer of background for my version of Greyhawk, this is where some of the Suel migrations settled and attempted to conquer the local Flan native folks, because someday I'd love the campaign to get to modules like Rob Kuntz's Maure Castle. Leaving clues to such things doesn't violate my understanding of a sandbox, because I'm not obligating the players to follow up on these hooks.

Created by a Suel wizard, an apprentice of the Maure, the shield was intended for the wizard's body guard. The shield is nominally a +1 shield. However, any non-magic missile weapon that passes within 5' of the bearer (in any direction!) is targeted at the wielder. To assist the bearer in surviving, the shield is +3 vs. non-magical missiles.

The large steel kite shield is painted white and emblazoned with a stylized sunburst with eight points. Runes are inscribed near the grip. Read magic indicates a charm against missiles.

Light Quencher:

+1 long sword.
This item was found in the module Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom” and was used by the Shroom itself. The rear of the Pod Caverns is connected to an underground river that itself is part of a network linking many caverns of the Underdark. I wanted to leave a hook for that, and describe some of the Shroom's own history. The Sinister Shroom is from one of the many fungal caverns in the Underdark, and set out for his own purposes of spreading his fertile fungalness to upper caverns and beyond. To arm himself, the Shroom traded with drow – at an Underdark trading post – for a weapon to use against surface dwellers. This was in line with the drow's purposes.

This +1 long sword is an elegant weapon, with a slightly curved, thrusting and edged blade. Onyx decorates the pommel, matching the black leather of the hilt. Runes of black are etched upon the blade.
The runes are drow, recognizable but unintelligible to other elves and name the sword “Light Quencher.” Once per day, wielder of the sword may say its name and extinguish one non-magical light source (up to a lantern or a small camp fire) within 30'. If the fire is held, its owner is entitled to a saving throw versus magic against the level of the sword's wielder.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Another +1 Sword

Magical Items: Not Another +1 Sword

As campaigns advance, a common complaint is that magical items become 'less magical'. Another +1 sword would just be another item in the fighter's golf caddy. I've written before about ways to make each item unique based on its origin. I still try to use those ideas, but I think I should consider the level of the maker of the item as well. This should result in more potions and scrolls of varying types being found, and permanent magical items being rarer and more treasured.

Another aspect of single use items is that they reward smart play. A permanent magical item is always on and available regardless of whether the character is informed and aware of the challenge. But because single use items require an action to use, the characters that play D&D like it is a game of exploration instead of a series of inter-connected tactical combats will be prepared and able to make the choice to use their potions and scrolls.

In both AD&D and Castles and Crusades, permanent magical items can only be produced by much higher level spell casters than single use items like potions and scrolls. In both cases, scrolls and potions can be made at 7th level, while 11th, 12th or higher is required for permanent items.

I think in most campaign worlds, there will be more spellcasters between 7-10th level producing more single use items than the rarer archmages spending thousands of gold pieces and weeks and months making very special items. While this comparative faucet of single use items will also be drained by their use, I think the distribution tables for found magical items are wrongly skewed against single use items. For both AD&D and C&C, scrolls and potions are 30-35% of found magical items.

So, the treasure distribution that I will be using will have 66% single use items. Of these, twice as many potions as scrolls. Potions are used by everyone, and even the spell casting artisans may prefer the ease of potion use when they are in danger.

Here's the distribution from Castles & Crusades Monsters and Treasures, keeping pretty much the same relative weights:
01-44 Potions
45-67 Scroll
68-73 Weapon
74-79 Armor
80-88 Miscellaneous
89-93 Rings
94-97 Rods, Staves and Wands
98-99 Cursed
100 Artifacts

Another consideration is that the scope and variety of potions should be expanded, as potions will now be performing the same function as many of the lesser magical items. “Oil of Magic Weapon” and “Oil of the Firey Blade” as well as “Potion of Shadow Form” should take their places in the adventurer's pouch. For now, I think I'll just have a 1/3 chance that a potion will be non-standard and look through either the spell lists or magical items for inspiration.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pics of "Our Gang"

Howdy. It's been our custom for awhile to go out for dinner and drinks on birthdays. D makes a cake and we get festive (though not everyone drinks) before gaming that evening.
We really do have a large community of players, with 6-9 plus DM on any given weekend.

Here are some from my birthday. Two of the guys below are occasional posters on Dragonsfoot:

Next up is me, myself and the fried shrimp head everyone insisted I eat. My own fault, I did pick a sushi restaurant for my birthday.

The gang - most of it. All but three are current players. Two plan on returning in summer. We have a couple of others who could not make this outing.

The cake that D made for me (D is there behind.) We're just getting set up for the evening at S's new apartment. She wasn't done moving in, but decided to host anyway. This is the evening they finally defeated the Sinister Shroom! But first, CAKE!